March of the thought police: Tim Farron’s ousting as Lib Dem leader is another victory for the Left which gags free speech and imposes its own warped views

One of the great myths of our age is that we live in a time of unparalleled tolerance, a paradise of liberalism, conscience and free speech.

You can think what you like, say what you like and do as you please, and nobody will ever tell you otherwise.

That is the theory. The reality, alas, is rather different. For this week came yet another worrying sign that the prejudices of our liberal cultural elite are no less stifling and no less repressive than the taboos they pride themselves on having banished.

At the heart of this is the Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, who resigned on Wednesday after less than two years in the job.

When I heard Tim Farron say he could not reconcile his heartfelt Christian principles with his leadership of an avowedly liberal party, I wondered what had happened to tolerance

When I heard Tim Farron say he could not reconcile his heartfelt Christian principles with his leadership of an avowedly liberal party, I wondered what had happened to tolerance

I hold no torch for Mr Farron, who never struck me as an international statesman in waiting. But when I heard him say he could not reconcile his heartfelt Christian principles with his leadership of an avowedly liberal party, I wondered what had happened to our traditions of tolerance and democracy.

At the heart of his dilemma were his views on gay sex, which on several occasions he had failed to say outright was not sinful, as well as his disapproval of abortion (he later claimed to have changed his mind on the issue). But he never tried to impose those views on others. Nor did he propose to outlaw homosexuality, or to recriminalise abortion.

For his liberal critics, however, this was not good enough. As they saw it, he was guilty of what George Orwell called ‘thoughtcrime’. Only a full recantation — and presumably the renunciation of his Christian faith — would have been enough to save him.

Tim Farron's liberal critics thought he was guilty of what George Orwell called ‘thoughtcrime’

Tim Farron’s liberal critics thought he was guilty of what George Orwell called ‘thoughtcrime’

‘I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in,’ Mr Farron said on Wednesday, ‘in which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.’

Alas, this is not merely an issue for the Lib Dems, for the sickness of liberal intolerance is far more widespread. Seeping out of our schools and universities, the culture of hysterical outrage is now in real danger of polluting our public life, stifling debate and silencing dissent.

Just look, for example, at the absurdly strident way the Left has reacted to the prospect of a deal between the Conservatives and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists. As staunch social conservatives, rooted in the Presbyterian churches, the DUP are opposed not just to gay marriage but to the extension of abortion rights to Northern Ireland — views clearly too much for the metropolitan dinner-party elite.

Never mind that the DUP are the single biggest party in one of the four nations of our kingdom. Never mind that their views are shared by the vast majority of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, who are understandably sick of being caricatured as reactionary primitives.

To the Left, such people are thought criminals. There is no place for dissent in the modern liberal imagination, no room for those who question the new orthodoxies of the chattering classes.

So racism must always be treated as the ultimate evil.

The equality of the sexes can never be questioned; indeed, the very idea of gender itself is deeply suspect. Immigration is always good. Welfare is wonderful; capitalism is monstrous. America is corrupt; Israel is worse. Patriotism is always bad, especially British patriotism. And so on.

In some ways we have been here before. In the late Sixties and early Seventies, the headlines were full of half-crazed students picketing visiting speakers and staging sit-ins.

The culture of hysterical outrage is now in real danger of polluting our public life, stifling debate and silencing dissent

The culture of hysterical outrage is now in real danger of polluting our public life, stifling debate and silencing dissent

But there are two significant differences today.

First, with undergraduate numbers at around two million, there are ten times as many students as they were then — which means universities are more influential than ever. Second, university lecturers have become almost exclusively Left-wing.

In 2015, a pitiful 7 per cent of lecturers voted Conservative; the vast majority voted Labour, Lib Dem or Green.

So perhaps it is no wonder that, according to YouGov survey data, a staggering 66 per cent of 18 to 19-year-olds, and 62 per cent of 20 to 24-year-olds, voted Labour on June 8.

I hesitate to say they have been brainwashed, but at the very least their brains have been given a light rinse.

Perhaps that sounds alarmist. But consider what happened at Tyssen Community Primary School in Hackney, East London, on election day. When voters arrived to cast their ballots, they were met by posters, drawn by the children, demanding more money for schools and libraries.

‘We can’t tell you how to vote,’ read a notice by the posters, ‘but the kids aren’t happy. They want change. Vote with your heart.’

‘I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in,’ Mr Farron said on Wednesday, ‘in which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society'

‘I seem to be the subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in,’ Mr Farron said on Wednesday, ‘in which case we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society’

To make matters worse, some of the children’s posters had been adorned with the hammer and sickle. If that isn’t indoctrination, I don’t know what is.

The tragedy is that our schools and universities are supposed to be crucibles of debate where no idea is too outlandish, no opinion too heretical. Instead, they are becoming bubbles of received opinion, echo chambers in which the same lazy prejudices — the vital importance of transgender toilets, and so on — reverberate unceasingly.

Here is just a taste of the madness that has infected our higher education system in the past few years. At Oxford, the ‘equality and diversity unit’ has warned staff and students that if they fail to look people in the eye, or if they ask where people come from, they will be guilty of ‘microaggression’, a kind of ‘subtle, everyday racism’.

At Cambridge, Dr Lucy Delap, deputy director of history and policy, has asked her colleagues to stop using terms such as ‘brilliance’, ‘genius’ and ‘flair’, as they apparently ‘carry assumptions of gender inequality and also of class and ethnicity inequalities’.

At Sussex, students have been warned not to use the pronouns ‘he’ and ‘she’ because they might offend transgendered colleagues.

And at Cardiff Metropolitan University you are not allowed to call girls ‘girls’, nor can you use the terms ‘forefathers’, ‘mankind’ or ‘sportsmanship’. Even complaining about the ‘taxman’ apparently marks you out as a dangerous reactionary.

Even Christianity, unless of the most explicitly Left-wing kind, is enough to damn you. Pictured, Tim Farron with wife Rosie

Even Christianity, unless of the most explicitly Left-wing kind, is enough to damn you. Pictured, Tim Farron with wife Rosie

Risible? Of course. And an embarrassment to our national tradition of a system of education based on open-minded debate and the challenging of received wisdom.

The problem is that too many universities seem incapable of striving for those ideals, preferring instead to close down debate.

At London’s City University, the student union has banned both the Mail and the Sun, accusing them of fostering ‘fascism and social divisiveness’. That, by banning newspapers, they were copying what genuine Fascists once did in Germany and Italy clearly never occurred to them.

In fact, destroying newspapers has become something of a habit for the modern liberal Left. During the election campaign, Left-wing activists eagerly tweeted pictures of themselves burning front pages of newspapers that criticised their hero, Jeremy Corbyn.

Yes, burning newspapers: a Fascist trademark of the Thirties, when the Nazis held huge bonfires of books they disagreed with.

Incidentally, the Nazis were also great ones for demolishing statues of historical figures they disliked — rather like the student activists in the Rhodes Must Fall campaign, who wanted to tear down Oxford University’s statue of the empire-builder Cecil Rhodes.

But this is Britain in 2017. We are supposed to be living in an age of pluralism and tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of speech

But this is Britain in 2017. We are supposed to be living in an age of pluralism and tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of speech

The Nazis were also keen on rewriting history — as are student activists who want to ‘decolonise the curriculum’ by forcing lecturers to put more black and female writers on syllabuses instead of boring white men such as Shakespeare and Dickens.

The extraordinary thing, though, is that these modern-day book-burners reserve most of their intolerance not for their adversaries on the Right, but for heretics and apostates on the Left, such as the feminist writers Germaine Greer and Julie Bindel, or the columnist Nick Cohen.

And of course poor old Tim Farron, forced out for daring to hold views about gay marriage which held sway for millennia in this country. A favourite trick is ‘no-platforming’, when visiting speakers are denied the right to air their views in case they offend anyone’s sensibilities.

At Canterbury Christ Church University, the student union’s ‘lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender officer’ refused to share a platform with veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

What was Mr Tatchell’s crime? He had signed an open letter deploring the rise of . . . no-platforming. By doing so, apparently, he was guilty of ‘incitement of violence against transgender people’.

There is confected outrage in some Leftist quarters at Theresa May, a vicar’s daughter, when she dared to talk about Britain’s ‘Christian values’ at Easter; and hence the rage against poor Mr Farron

There is confected outrage in some Leftist quarters at Theresa May, a vicar’s daughter, when she dared to talk about Britain’s ‘Christian values’ at Easter; and hence the rage against poor Mr Farron

If Mr Tatchell, probably the best-known gay rights campaigner in the country, a man who was badly beaten by Robert Mugabe’s bodyguards when he attempted a citizen’s arrest on the despot, is really guilty of thought crime, then none of us is safe. Indeed, merely by writing these words, I am doubtless identifying myself as a dangerous racist and sexist homophobe who deserves a long stretch in a re-education camp.

Still, if the revolution does come, I will be in good company. My fellow inmates will include not just Mr Tatchell but Colin Firth’s wife Livia (guilty of ‘cultural appropriation’ last week for wearing an American Indian headdress), the Star Trek actress Alice Eve (guilty of wearing ‘cornrows’, regarded as an Afro-Caribbean hairstyle), the novelist Lionel Shriver (guilty of writing about black characters in a novel) and the feminist writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (guilty of suggesting transgender women might be different from other women).

That all these people, many of them achingly right-on, have fallen foul of the new censors tells you all you need to know. For we live in an age of witch-hunts and purges, when the slightest deviation from the ultra-earnest, ultra-liberal orthodoxy invites charges of racism, sexism and worse.

Tim Farron was forced out for daring to hold views about gay marriage which held sway for millennia in this country

Tim Farron was forced out for daring to hold views about gay marriage which held sway for millennia in this country

Even Christianity, unless of the most explicitly Left-wing kind, is enough to damn you. Hence the confected outrage in some Leftist quarters at Theresa May, a vicar’s daughter, when she dared to talk about Britain’s ‘Christian values’ at Easter; and hence the rage against poor Mr Farron.

As the Bishop of Leeds remarked last December, we are close to creating a society in which practising Christians — never Muslims, who seem to be immune from criticism — are afraid even to ‘talk about their faith’ in case they are hounded out of their jobs, like the British Airways worker who dared to wear a crucifix, or the nurse who chose to pray for her patients.

The supreme irony is that this new intolerant liberalism is itself a kind of secular religion, albeit of a debased and degenerate kind. Its adherents live in a strange world of true believers and heretics, the pure and the damned.

They venerate a bearded prophet with the initials JC — Jeremy Corbyn. They believe unswervingly in his final victory. Doubt is unthinkable. To criticise him, as even Left-wing columnists such as the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee and Owen Jones have discovered, invites accusations of treachery and worse.

Like religious fanatics of old, they are always looking for witches and scapegoats, preferably female. A particular target, for example, is the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, whom Corbynista fanatics boo and hiss whenever she dares to ask him a question.

From the way they carry on, you might think we were in Spain during the darkest days of the Inquisition, when Catholic fanatics searched the land for Jews and Muslims; or in Salem, Massachusetts in the 1690s, during the notorious witch trials that inspired the play The Crucible.

But this is Britain in 2017. We are supposed to be living in an age of pluralism and tolerance, freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and in a land where your conscience is your own.

As it happens, this year marks the 500th anniversary of the moment that, more than any other, ushered in the modern world. On October 31, 1517, the German monk Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, challenging the corruption, self-interest and authoritarianism of the Catholic Church, and starting the Protestant Reformation.

By daring to speak his mind, Luther set off an explosion of discussion and debate.

From his lone gesture of defiance you can trace a line from the Reformation to the Scientific Revolution, the 18th-century Enlightenment of new ideas and social philosophy, and finally the age of tolerance and freedom we are lucky enough to inhabit today.

What a grim irony that, even as the world prepares to mark the anniversary of the Reformation, new zealots are trying to slam the door on free speech.

For if freedom means anything, it means the right to hold unfashionable opinions, to say the unsayable and to stand in the last ditch, when every man is against you, for what you truly believe.

Tim Farron put his faith above his political career. Good for him. He has shown himself a far better man than the so-called liberals who brought him down.

But I fear he will not be the last victim of the new intolerance. Unless the rest of us stand up to the zealots, they will not rest until all dissent is silenced.

They are a threat to everything this country stands for. They must be fought. They must be beaten.

 

 

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